Calling all “citizen scientists.”
—by Alice Toler
At 100 years old, the Great Salt Lake Audubon is the oldest conservation organization in Utah. Satisfy your aviphilic hankerings by taking part in their centenary Christmas Bird Count, and help monitor bird populations in the Great Basin hub of the Pacific migratory flyway. Pomera Fronce, Circle Coordinator for the count, talked to CATALYST about the history of the bird count and what to expect if you wish to take part:
How the Christmas Bird Counts came about
“This is kind of a neat story. In the late 1800s people used to go out and have these activities called ‘side hunts’ where they would see how many birds…any kind of bird…they could shoot in one day. So a guy named Frank Chapman, who was an officer of the Audubon Society, suggested instead of shooting the birds, why don’t we count them? The first Christmas Bird Count took place in 1900, in 25 places in North America, and it’s been growing exponentially ever since. The 101st count in the winter of 2000-2001 covered 1,823 bird count circles in 17 countries around the world.”
Fronce took over coordinating the Salt Lake Christmas Bird Count in 2005. This year’s count is being held on Saturday, December 15. The count circle has a radius of 7.5 miles and is centered on the intersection of Main Street and South Temple: It runs north to 5th South in Bountiful, South to 53rd South in Murray, east to Emigration Canyon, and west to 56th West—”It’s a huge area,” says Fronce. Participants learn means of counting that will avoid duplication and improve accuracy of results.
“The count circle is divided up like a pie, with about 80 people in 15 teams, each team getting a pie slice of land to count birds in. Not only do we count the number of various species we see, but we also count the number of individuals of those species. At the end of the day collectively we’ll have seen probably over 100 different species of birds. The count for our circle usually runs from 35,000 to 40,000 individual birds.”
Afterward participants meet up at Chase Mill at the Tracey Aviary for a potluck social. The team captains give their reports. There are door prizes.
“The bird count is a really fun thing to do as a ‘citizen scientist.’ We send our data to the National Audubon Society and they’ll collate it and use it to estimate the wintering population of birds, to see what’s happening in terms of ranges expanding or contracting, and to keep tabs on species that might be in trouble or declining.”
There’s no charge to participate. Small kids may not be suited to the count because it involves a lot of walking and you have to be able to be quiet so as not to scare the birds away. But Fronce says older kids can have a great time: “It just depends on your family.”
If you prefer, you can also do a feeder count, where you count and identify just the birds that are coming to your backyard feeder. The amount of time you put into a feeder count is up to you; you can count for an hour, or for 8 hours, whatever you’d like. It’s a great way to teach kids, and it helps the walking teams cover the extra area they don’t have the time to get to in each of their count territories.